Tips for Supporting Children and Youth with the Impacts of Media Coverage on Racism and Violence
Excessive exposure to media coverage on anti-Black racism and violence can be very distressing. See below for tips on helping children and youth process the events they may see or hear on the news.
Validate their feelings: Children and youth may be experiencing many different feelings and thoughts. They might be afraid of riots, of being hurt by the police, or they may worry that something bad could happen to loved ones. Avoid making assumptions. Instead, ask broad questions that give them space to talk through their feelings: "How did you feel about what we saw on the news? What did it make you think about?" For young children, drawing, painting or acting out stories with toys can be helpful tools for expressing thoughts and feelings that aren't easy to put into words.
Don't avoid talking about it: Research shows that even very young children are aware of racial differences and children can learn harmful lessons about race when it's not discussed openly.
Be clear, direct and factual: Even with young children, use clear language. It is not helpful to say, "People are upset because some groups treat other groups unfairly." It is more accurate to say: "This is about the way that Black people have been treated wrongly for many years and this is still happening." At the same time, you can also emphasize your hope for a better future and plan ways your family can take action to help make that a reality.
Encourage questions and don't worry if you can't answer them: Children and youth are likely to have lots of questions about racism and violence, and chances are they won't be easy ones. It is natural to feel uncomfortable during the conversation — but it's not a reason to stop talking. By tolerating discomfort you're modeling an important skill for your child. Be honest. You might say, "I find it really hard to talk about this. It feels scary. But it also makes me hopeful about making change." Parents don't have to be perfect to have conversations about race. Don't let perfectionism paralyze these conversations. Say something; try it out, make a mistake, model and demonstrate learning.
Important stuff in small doses: While it's important to talk to our children about the bad things going on in the world, if we are lucky and privileged, then we can dole out the information to them in safer doses. The images and sounds of pervasive and chronic mass and racialized violence take a toll on our children and youth. Pick one event, one short clip from a protest, a social media post that resonates, or a YouTube clip and use that as a conversation starter.
Try to be calm, but don't hide your emotions: Children and youth take their cues from parents, so talking to them calmly and staying factual helps them process information. It's helpful to pick a time when you're feeling centered and have had a chance to work through your own feelings. It's also important that we don't hide our emotions from children, especially when the subject is so important. Let them know that you're sad or angry and acknowledge that it's ok to be upset by injustice, as long as it doesn't stop you from working to make it better.
Rely on your support system: If you're feeling exhausted or overwhelmed, reach out to your networks for support. Friends, family members, religious leaders and mental health professionals can all help you process your own emotions and plan conversations with children. It can also help to bring in trusted allies to talk to your children themselves — having an adult perspective that doesn't come from a parent can give them more space to sort through what they're feeling and ask questions.
Keep the conversation open: Like any important topic, racism and violence aren't something you can have "the talk" about just once. For individuals of any age and race, this is something that's going to keep coming up, so be sure to let your children know that you're there for them whenever they need to talk — and keep checking in proactively, too.
Explore resources: No matter what challenges come up as you talk with your children, there are lots of great resources out there to help you continue these crucial conversations. Check out the resources below for further help and support along the way.